By now everyone’s aware that the Sooners made it in the tournament. The Sooners will be the number 10 seed in the Midwest bracket, facing Rhode Island in the first round on Thursday. It’s somewhat surprising that the Sooners managed to avoid a First 4 matchup in Dayton. Based on that fact, it’s clear that the Sooners weren’t even one of the last 4 at-large teams in the tournament. Needless to say, the team was excited to see their name pop up on TBS’s board at shortly after 5 p.m. Norman time.
The question now becomes “can the team do anything with their second life?” This is a team that so many have panned for the last several weeks and, leading up to the selection and after the selection was announced, many have been critical of the Sooners’ inclusion in the tournament.
In some ways, the selection committee may have given the Sooners a little bit of a break with their bracket. For one, they’re not playing Tuesday in one of the First 4 games. For another, the Rams seem to be limping a little coming in to the tournament as well, having lost 4 of their last 8 games. Of course, maybe only Arizona St. is limping into the tournament the way the Sooners are but it’s not like OU is catching the Rams on a hot streak. For another, instead of drawing Texas A&M (ranked #30 by KenPom) the Rams are #49 in the KenPom rankings — 2 rankings below the Sooners. So while the Sooners should be playing a (theoretically) better team in the first round by virtue of being a lower seed, they’re playing a team that’s essentially equal to the Sooners. The matchup definitely could’ve been worse.
The Rams are an interesting team. Their offense is ranked #66 in the country by KenPom and their defense is ranked #38. So they’re clearly a very good defensive team — but not an elite defensive team — and an average (for a tournament team) offensive team. In a lot of ways, their offensive and defensive ability makes them look like Kansas State (#60 on offense; #41 on defense). They play faster than KSU, however, who is one of the slowest teams in the country. The Rams’ tempo is pretty close to TCU’s.
When you sort through the Rams’ characteristics, it’s clear that one of their strengths is turning over the other team on defense and avoiding turnovers on offense. Obviously, this should be a concern for the OU coaching staff in preparing for the Rams because the Sooners have a tendency to be turnover prone. The Rams are very good at defending the 3, which could again be a problem for the Sooners, but very bad at keeping opposing teams from getting to the free throw line. Many of the Sooners are good at penetrating and getting into the lane and drawing fouls so this could be an area the team can take advantage of.
The Rams start 4 guards and don’t have a real rim protector inside along the lines of a lot of the guys the Sooners have had to face in conference. The Rams will clearly get in the faces of OU’s perimeter shooters. The Sooners then have to put the ball on the court and get into the lane and score or get fouled inside.
On offense, the Rams don’t do anything especially well or especially badly. They shoot it OK from 3, shoot it OK from 2, but aren’t very good at getting to the line and making free throws. Six foot, 3 inch guard Jared Terrell is the Rams’ leading scorer — averaging about 17.5 points per game — and shoots more than 41% from 3. Two other guards, Jeff Dowtin and Jarvis Garrett, also shoot about 40% from 3 point land but they also average less than 1 made 3 per game so that’s not a major part of the team’s arsenal.
The Rams start 4 guards but Terrell is the one the Sooners are really going to have to lock down. If they can force him to at least be inefficient then it’s going to put pressure on their other guys who aren’t really designed to get buckets at crunch time. Their big inside guy, Andre Berry, is just that…big. He’s just 6’8″ but he’s a load at 275 pounds. He’s also a fantastic rebounder (as you can probably imagine) on both ends of the floor. McNeace and Lattin will have their hands full keeping him off the boards — it’s possible there could even be a Hannes Polla sighting — but he’s not really a focal point of the offense. Defensively, OU’s not going to have to worry about Lattin or McNeace getting caught in switches on one of their guards because they should not be switching off of Berry because he’s not really a threat on the perimeter.
After Terrell, EC Matthews averages 12.8 PPG and then 3 guys, including Berry, average between 9 and 10 PPG. It’s a pretty balanced team but clearly Terrell is their offensive leader. It’s critical that the Sooners force other guys to score.
The Rams have lost 7 times this season, all but one to NCAA tournament teams (though if they had beaten Davidson today, Davidson wouldn’t have made the tournament so their other loss to Davidson would make a 2nd loss to a non-tournament team). Their non-tournament loss was a 30 point shellacking to St. Joseph’s at home. That’s probably an aberration. Like Oklahoma, Rhode Island lost to Alabama on the road.
In their loss to Nevada, they let the Wolfpack shoot 44 free throws. That’s clearly why they lost that one. Every team that beat the Rams except for Davidson shot more than 20 free throws and shot many more free throws than the Rams did. This has to be a big part of the Sooners’ game plan. Against St. Joseph’s, the Rams shot 3-29 from 3 point land. It would be great if that became part of the Sooners’ game plan also but certainly making the team inefficient on offense would go a long way toward getting OU a date with Duke next Saturday.
This is certainly a winnable game for the Sooners. The Rams are good, balanced, and tough defensively. They’re going to put a lot of pressure on the ball and try to force turnovers that they can turn into easy baskets. The Sooners, therefore, must:
- Take care of the ball. This has often been a problem for OU this season not just because it makes them inefficient offensively and ends their possessions, but those turnovers also often end up being live-ball turnovers 25 feet from the basket that end up as easy baskets or free throws on the other end of the floor. If OU takes care of the ball, they can force Rhode Island to score points in their halfcourt offense where the Sooners match up with them quite well.
- Rebound the basketball. The Sooners must, as a team, keep Rhode Island off the offensive glass. The last time the Sooners took the court, they were outrebounded 53-27 by Oklahoma St. They cannot allow the Rams to get easy putbacks after forcing missed shots.
- Use penetration to get to the rim and the foul line on offense. The Rams are going to pressure our guys on the perimeter and they probably won’t come off of OU’s outside shooters when we get inside. We must look to score once we get inside. Obviously, this means Trae Young but James, McGusty, Odomes, and Doolittle also need to look to get to the rim or the foul line when they get the ball. The 3-pointer should not be a focal point of the offense in order to beat the Rams.
It’s been a tough slog over the last 6 or 8 weeks for the Sooners but the tournament committee gave them new life. This matchup gives them a chance to take advantage of it. Hopefully, OU will get to play at least 1 more game.
Thanks for reading.